For some states that do NOT have casinos and gambling, the way around the gambling laws has been through charitable gaming. Charitable gaming in some cases can mean a “Casino Night” fundraiser, but in other areas, it can mean a poker room. The Commonwealth of Virginia is one such state that has charitable poker rooms – or do they anymore?

New Laws Passed to Shut Down Charitable Gaming Board

In 2020, the Virginia General Assembly has passed bills that allowed for charitable gaming to take place. The General Assembly went so far as to create the Charitable Gaming Board, whose sole reason for existence was to oversee the operation of such charitable gaming across the state and that the regulations were being followed. Now new regulations have been passed that have put into question the legality of the rooms.

At issue is the fact that the General Assembly prevented the issuance of poker room licenses inside the state, but the Board allowed the rooms to open. Under discussion are two laws that were passed, Senate Bill 402 and Senate Bill 403. The two new laws, passed in April, cloud the waters on charitable gaming in the state.

The first bill effectively took away the authority of the Board to adopt new regulations regarding charitable gaming in the Commonwealth. The second bill, however, authorized the very same group to adopt regulations that had been asked for by the General Assembly regarding electronic charitable gaming in the state. These two laws contradict each other, at least according to one Commonwealth Senator who was pivotal in the passage of the 2020 laws.

Do the Laws Cancel Each Other?

Commonwealth of Virginia Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax), who sponsored the 2020 law that established charitable poker rooms and the Board, believes that the two laws cancel each other out, basically allowing for the poker rooms to be opened and operate as the 2020 laws were written. Petersen, who also is a practicing attorney who has represented charitable gaming operations, has gone to the court system to try to have the 2020 laws enforced.  

The state’s barristers disagree, naturally. They state that Petersen’s legal wrangling is “creative,” but that it is also incorrect. The laws passed do exactly what Governor Glenn Youngkin and the General Assembly are looking to do.

Still, it is difficult to overlook Petersen’s logical legal argument. If Senate Bill 402 is legitimate, then the Board has no authority to oversee or pass regulations regarding any charitable gaming in the state. If Senate Bill 403 is legitimate, then that means the laws passed in 2020 giving the Board the oversight of the industry are legal and cannot be infringed upon.

Charitable gaming in Virginia dates to 1973 when it was literally the only game in town. Over the years, however, sports betting, casinos, and slot operations have been licensed and operated in the Commonwealth. The problems came when the Board, which is made up of those who are operators of charitable gaming businesses in the state, tried to license charitable poker rooms. These rooms, the General Assembly felt, were not in it for the charitable aspects, but were operating as a for-profit gambling venture.

The outcome of the situation with charitable poker rooms, the Board, and the laws that have been passed will come to a head very soon. A hearing is set for December 7 that will determine just who has the authority in the Commonwealth. The oversight will either revert to the Board (as it has been), the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (which took oversight of charitable gaming after the two bills were passed), or there will be more legal wrangling over what should be a simple issue.

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